Drew from California asks:
Randy, as someone with a pedigree in playing around with beer, I want to know two things: What new twists with your beer have you been playing with recently and what's your favorite "standard" beer to brew?
I've been too busy with travel this fall to do much brewing of my own, but I've collaborated in several. In Argentina, they greeted me with a 6.5% amber ale brewed with yerba mate, the ubiquitous tea that everybody sips nonstop down there. Has a fruity, pleasant and definitely tea-like herbal character. Quite nice.
As I walked into a beer festival there, my hosts pulled me towards two half-barrel (hectoliter?) brew systems and said "You're the brewmaster. What do we add?" Both brews, a porter and an American brown ale, were about to come to a boil. I tripled the hops in the brown--that's what an AB is, right?--and also added a bit of black pepper and nutmeg. For the porter, I thought about it for a minute, and then said "Dulce de leche, una Kilo." This is a caramel goo that Argentines just about eat with shovels. It was everywhere, especially for breakfast and in giant desserts. And yes, it's delicious--just milk and sugar boiled down into a thick, spreadable caramel. We ended up skimming off a cup or so of fat from the top as the wort boiled.
The wort tasted delicious, and the little old ladies in the hall were quite interested.
Along with the Chicago Beer Society, I brewed a batch at the Goose Island brewpub with brewer Jared Rouben. He's a chef by background and has been doing collaborative brews with many of the high-profile chefs in Chicago, with great results. For our beer, we brewed a black white beer we called "Partial Eclipse," seasoned with bitter orange peel, Chinese coriander (very sharp, almost eucalyptus aroma) and just tiny amounts of star anise and Chinese/Szechuan red flower pepper (prickly ash), which has the unique property of making your mouth go numb when you chew on it. The beer ended up being pretty tasty if I do say so myself, and the spices were subtle enough that none of them could be picked out.
I didn't have time to brew in Australia, but I did manage to make it home with several different interesting honeys, including one called "sugar bag" that is made by the native stingless Australian bee, plus a bunch of spices:
Tasmanian Pepperberry: fruity, peppery, sweet (like licorice root) and in the end, a kind of a mustardy or grains-of-paradise hot.
Strawberry Gum: leaves of a type of eucalyptus tree with a striking fruitlike aroma.
Lemon Myrtle: leaves with a super-clean lemon-drop aroma.
Anise Myrtle: Ditto, but anise-like.
Roasted Wattleseed: A type of acacia seeds that have a sort of peanut butter-like aroma.
I'm also involved in a commercial project here in Chicago to create some Mexican-American craft beers, so we've been working with the flavors of that fantastic cuisine.
So plenty to work with there. I'm working on a new homebrewing book, and definitely want to include a global perspective in there. Should be a lot of fun.
My "standard" beer is a classic wit, and I love my own above all other versions (it's the only one I feel this way about). Wit is great because, well it just is, and also because it's a great vehicle for adding other flavors. Last batch I split and did some plain, some with an Asian citrus called a calamansi, which has an intense butter tangerine flavor, and another portion got a can of muscat winemakers concentrate added, inspired by a beer I tasted in Italy earlier this year.